Memorial Day is Cookin’: Do Rookie Wide Receivers Matter in the NFL?

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!  Or should I say “Everyone-Thinks-He’s-A-Gourmet-Grillmaster” Weekend?

But before I digress, let me just give a great big THANK YOU to all those men and women who served and died defending this country.  And I really mean it, as I totally get Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” when he said:

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then question the manner in which I provide it. I prefer you said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand to post.”

Aside from the whole accidentally-killing-a-soldier-over-some-poor-disciplining-methods thing and being tricked on the stand by a douchey Tom Cruise, I totally agree with Jack.  I know for a fact that if I were responsible for defending this country, we would have been taken over by at least a half dozen other countries by now, and perhaps a particularly aggressive pee-wee football team or two.  So, in honor of those who we’re thanking and celebrating, let’s first give a super quick history lesson on where Memorial Day came from.

History Time!

american_civil_war_1

Memorial Day actually first started in 1868 as “Decoration Day”, but due to the fact that “Decoration Day” sounds like a day for arts and crafts enthusiasts and not one for honoring fallen soldiers, it was eventually changed to Memorial Day, which was first used in 1882.  In fact, it was actually two different but parallel holidays celebrated by the Union and Confederacy after the Civil War.  And to be serious (for once), arts and crafts had nothing to do with it, as “Decoration Day” actually referred to the tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers in light of the over 600,000 lives lost in the Civil War.  Alright, now you (and I) know a little more about Memorial Day.  Thank you, Wikipedia.

The OTHER Memorial Day

Honestly, though, not only is Memorial Day an important weekend to celebrate and thank those who have served and died protecting this country, but it’s also traditionally thought of as the beginning of summer.

This isn’t entirely accurate, as summer this year begins on June 21, not May 25, as many of use in the Northeast can attest to as we sit inside looking at the 50 F degree weather outside.  Sure, I’m from Chicago, so any day with sun and no snow is good enough to qualify as a “summer day”, but 50 F degrees isn’t really summer.

You and Al Bundy have something in common.  OK, maybe more than one thing in common...

You and Al Bundy have something in common. OK, maybe more than one thing in common…

But more importantly, what it means to me and many other men across America, is that it’s time to barbecue!  And as is tradition, most every man across America somehow comes under the delusion that they know something about grilling.  I say “most” because there are some men who are ACTUALLY good at grilling and then there are those men who are, well, for lack of better way of saying it, just “smarter than I am”.

But I digress.  The point is that I’ve taken a few minutes away from burning my next burger (and calling it “burger flambe”, as if calling it something fancy will cover for my lack of skills) to write about another passion, and that’s endlessly discussing football trends and guessing whether they will continue in 2015.

Rookie Wide Receivers in the NFL

The 2015 Draft was notable for a number of reasons, most popular of which was the debate between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota and who should go first overall.  And wondering why Jameis Winston was so fat.  But looking at the numbers, one notes another interesting trend.  Over the last 5 years, there have never been more wide receivers drafted in the first round, or, in fact, in all 7 rounds combined.  In 2015, 6 of the 32 first round picks, 14 of the picks in rounds 1 through 3, and 35 of the 256 total picks, were wide receivers.

nfl-draft-590x900

For comparison, let’s look at how many wide receivers were selected in the first round and in the draft in total over the previous four years:

  • 2014 – 5 in first round (33 total)
  • 2013 – 3 in first round (28 total)
  • 2012 – 4 in first round (33 total)
  • 2011 – 3 in first round (28 total)

So why this increasing trend of selecting wide receivers in the draft?  Well, traditional wisdom has dictated that rookie running backs are the way to go for instant impact, but recent history has shown us something different.  In fact, if we look from 2011 to 2014, we see increasing contribution from rookie wide receivers in teams across the NFL.  Just take a look at rookie wide receivers that ended up in the top 30 in terms of receiving yards in the NFL from 2011 to 2014:

2011

  • Victor Cruz – UDFA – Giants – 1,536 yards
  • A.J. Green – 1st Round – Bengals – 1,057 yards
  • Julio Jones – 1st Round – Falcons – 959 yards

2012

  • Justin Blackmon – 1st Round – Jaguars – 865 yards
  • T.Y. Hilton – 3rd Round – Colts – 861 yards

2013

  • Keenan Allen – 3rd Round – Chargers – 1,046 yards

2014

  • Odell Beckham Jr. – 1st Round – Giants – 1,305 yards
  • Mike Evans – 1st Round – Buccaneers – 1,051 yards
  • Kelvin Benjamin – 1st Round – Panthers – 1,008 yards
  • Sammy Watkins – 1st Round – Bills – 982 yards

Heck, maybe even more impressive, one of these previous rookie wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr., will be gracing the cover of the next Madden video game!  Usually you have to work several years to pick up a curse like that!

OBJ Madden

Interestingly, NFL pundits placed no more than 4 wide receivers in the first round for 2015, indicating that teams (though not analysts) are willing to reach a little for that wide receiver and are no longer satisfied with only picking best value or addressing their most urgent needs in the first round.  If recent history is predictive, it wouldn’t be surprising to see 5 of the 6 2015 first round wide receiver picks in the top 30 for receiving yards, and perhaps a few others as well.

The 2015 Wide Receiver Draft

There were several high upside wide receivers that were taken in the draft, including DeVante Parker, Breshad Perriman, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham.  But there are a few that stand out to me as immediate breakout contributors in 2015.

Everyone is expecting Amari Cooper to put up big numbers in receiver hungry Oakland.  As along as Derek Carr stays the course, as I think he will, there’s room for serious growth there in the receiving corp.  That includes Cooper as well as others, such as UDFA Josh Harper, who I think has an outside shot of being top 50 if given the chance in his rookie year, and has a ceiling that may make him a top 20 receiver in the future.

Kevin Smith - WVU Photo

Kevin Smith – WVU Photo

Kevin White is in an excellent situation with Brandon Marshall in the Big Apple.  Clearly, Marquess Wilson wasn’t the answer, and Alshon Jeffery will need help as he’s likely to see increased coverage in the secondary.  Opportunity is the mother of success in the NFL, and White has opportunity in spades.  Whether it takes him long to improve his route running and take advantage remains to be seen, but immediate impact potential is there.

Vince Mayle - WSU Athletics Photo

Vince Mayle – WSU Athletics Photo

I also wouldn’t surprised, as I’ve already noted and assuming no injury set back with the thumb, that Vince Mayles may have significant opportunity behind Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline to impress in Cleveland.  Of course, “impressing in Cleveland” is a pretty low bar, so perhaps he won’t be the only one.

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Of course, we have all of camp as well as the preseason to get a peak at these guys.  But just based on what we’ve seen in years past with regard to rookie wide receivers, and what we’ve seen from these particular receivers in college, I think we’re in for another high flying year.

Now please excuse me.  I have to get back to over-cooking my pork shoulder in my smoker.

Have a good one, everybody!

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

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